How can I change bad attitudes on my team?

During a recent Q & A session on Facebook, a manager in our community sent this question:

I have a really big problem. I’m new to my job and I’ve noticed that some employees have bad attitudes and treat others with very little respect. I don’t know how to start the conversation with an employee who has a bad attitude. How can I address this?

I know this manager and I are not the only ones who have had to deal with a problem like this on our team. Honestly, a great deal of the coaching that I do with managers is rooted in how to deal with situations like this one—drama between team members, people with negative attitudes, and how to address personality issues most effectively for everyone involved. And for me personally, the most challenging situations that I’ve faced sound like this one.

If personality clashes and negative attitudes on your team have affected your success, I hope my reply to this question is helpful.

Here’s my response. I hope it helps you in the days ahead.

 

First of all, congrats on your new position!

Since you’re new to the role and you see that the problem has existed for a long time, there might be a huge opportunity here for you to make some adjustments to shift the culture of the company. Perhaps giving attention to things like the hiring process, the onboarding of new employees, or ongoing education and training for all of those in the company or on your team.

The goal of any changes you might make is to work on creating a culture where a negative attitude sticks out like a sore thumb, and is viewed as something unacceptable for the rest of the team. Imagine a work environment where someone rolling their eyes at a coworker or raising their voice in frustration stands out the same way a

When I’m coaching a manager in a session, I always have a little red coaching flag whenever I hear a client bring up someone else’s attitude, actions, or behavior.

My first question in those cases is this: How much control do you really have over someone else’s attitude?

After all, we all choose our own attitude, based on our upbringing, genetics, and experiences.

Of course, as leaders, we want to influence others positively and help them grow. Hopefully, we create a new experience upon which they can build an attitude that will serve them better in the future.

Another thing that jumps out to me about your question is the word “bad.” Sometimes we can assign a negative value a little too easily to someone’s attitude, just because it may be different from ours.

I would invite you to do some work exploring what makes a “bad” attitude for your team and for your company.

In my experience, people who we might label with a bad attitude show up the way they do because those specific behaviors have become their habitual response to handling a situation in which they’re not getting something they need.

This might sound a little harsh, but in some ways, their actions might resemble those of a baby who’s not getting something they want or need. What do they do? They scream and cry and make all kinds of unpleasant noises in order to get attention.

And let’s be honest, if you weren’t in the right mindset or you weren’t the person responsible for caring for them, they might really get on your nerves.

But, their mother or father understands, “That’s just our baby’s way of telling us they have a need. I’m gonna take some action to take care of them.”

Many times, this is the case for those we perceive as having a bad attitude. They may be acting out because they have an unfulfilled need.

Somewhere along the line, they just learned that creating drama or showing up in a negative mood is the best way to get attention.

And I commend you for noticing this and wanting to do something to help them! You want to get this conversation started!

If you and I were doing some coaching around this topic, I’d want to know:

Why is this so important to you? You’re new to the position; why not just leave it alone? (And I’m sure I would get a really passionate response from you about why you can’t tolerate it—Good!) Why is this such a big issue for you and for your team?

Now, on to your question: “How can I start the conversation?”

I would invite you to look to the future, to the time when everyone on the team is showing up consistently with an attitude that serves them and the team really well.

Imagine you find out someone then that someone needs something from you or looks like they’re struggling. How would you start that conversation? In reality, the way you handle this situation may not have to be all that different.

And since you’re new to your position, you can use this situation as a stepping stone into future conversations with this individual and others. You can model how you’d like to handle these types of situations in the future when someone isn’t getting what they feel they deserve or need.

Then, I’d like to know:

How might you prepare for that conversation in the future? And for the present situation, what might you say to get the conversation started? What might be the most important thing for you to communicate to the employee? How would it come through in your facial expression? In your tone of voice?

I’d invite you to role play the conversation, either with a colleague, friend, family member, or just out loud with yourself.

First set the stage in your practice session by stating what you’d like to communicate and what feelings and values you want to make sure are present.

Ask yourself:

Who do I want to show up as? What does Hero Me look like in this situation? How would Hero Me broach the subject and start the conversation?

Then practice it that way.

As you practice, record the conversation and then listen to the recording. (I know this feels uncomfortable; that’s why it works so well.)

As you listen, think about how you might make adjustments to really show up the way you want to for yourself, the team, and the individual employee.

During coaching sessions with me, clients I’m working with will often write short lists of words or cues that they can bring with them into difficult conversations to remind them of their intentions for the conversation and the main points they want to make sure they cover. This might also help you to feel better prepared to start these conversations.

 

Whether you’re faced with this exact situation, or something similar, I hope my response is helpful for you in thinking through how you might proceed.

If you haven’t already guessed, I LOVE helping to support managers! I know how difficult it can be to take care of all of the responsibilities that come with the job and show up as the person you want to be day in and day out.

I want to know: What challenges are you currently facing?

Please send me a message or leave a comment below and I promise to respond.

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